Augusta lengthened to 7,290 yards for '03 Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Next year's Masters will be contested on the sixth-longest course in major championship history after tournament organizers announced that Augusta's par-4 fifth hole had been lengthened.

Augusta National, a par-72, measured 7,270 yards when Tiger Woods clinched his third Masters title in April of this year, but the course has now been extended to 7,290 yards for the 2003 edition.

The tee at the par-4 Magnolia hole has been moved back and the fairway bunkers have been extended some 80 yards toward the green, stretching the hole from 435 to 455 yards, Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said in a statement.

"This improvement continues our commitment to accuracy off the tee," Johnson said Tuesday. "Recently, the fairway bunkers did not come into play. This change should once again make the bunkers an integral part of the hole."

The carry to the two fairway bunkers is now some 315 yards, and both the fairway and the bunkers have been shifted to the right to increase the dogleg characteristic of the hole, Johnson added.

Augusta's lengthening for 2003 is likely to meet with a mixed response from some of the game's top players. The famous Georgia layout was extended by 285 yards for last year's tournament, prompting the world No. 1-ranked Woods to say that the change had come too soon.

"I don't think (the changes) were as necessary right now but I understand where they are coming from," Woods said during the build-up to this year's Masters. "(The players) are getting longer (with their shots) and they (the Augusta committee) don't want to see the winning score coming down too low.

"I won with 16-under (in 2001) and 18-under (in 1997) and they don't want to see it that low. They don't want to see us hitting wedges into a lot of the par-fours where they (the players) used to hit 5, 6 and 7-irons."

Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus was more vehement in his criticism, arguing that the ultra-long Augusta layout would severely penalize shorter hitters.

But Johnson defended the changes, saying he had heard only praise from players of the new-look layout for 2002.

"Rocco Mediate and Paul Azinger were down here and they could not be more pleased," he said. "I think they are considered medium hitters, but they could not be more pleased with the changes. They thought the changes gave them a better chance to win.

"They liked the idea of having their 6-iron versus a long hitter's 8-iron (for a second shot into a par-four hole), as opposed to their 8-iron versus the long player's pitching wedge."

At this year's Masters, Augusta was the fifth-longest course in major championship history. It has since been overtaken by 7,360-yard Hazeltine, which hosted last week's PGA championship.